A Letter From Germany

As the year 1899 drew to a close the attention of Germany was occupied chiefly with the war in South Africa. The attitude of the German public is one of practically unanimous condemnation of England’s course toward the Transvaal. No newspaper of influence and no public man of note has come forward in defense of England; even the traditional friends of England among the Germans, who have tried to realize English political ideals on German soil, complain bitterly that Mr. Chamberlain has terribly injured their cause before the German public, which will be less ready than ever to follow English models in developing liberal institutions.

The large class of more or less impartial thinkers in Germany strongly disapprove of England’s treatment of the Boers on moral grounds ; but it is evident that outside of this select class there is a large element of envy and hate in the anti-English sentiment of the people. The tone of the German press, and the expressions of glee that one witnesses among the people as the news of English defeats becomes known upon the streets, are a sufficient proof of that. An outsider cannot escape the impression that England’s immense fleet and her prosperous colonies — things which Germany very much desires to duplicate — rankle in the minds of the German people.

The colonial expansion of Germany was carried forward in 1899 by the acquisition of the Spanish islands in the Pacific and the chief parts of the Samoan group. The latter acquisition was received with great enthusiasm in Germany, based mainly upon sentimental considerations; for nobody of intelligence sees any great commercial importance in the event. The purchase of the Spanish islands was greeted with marked indifference, considering the German enthusiasm for colonial expansion in general. Germany will spend some $8,000,000 this year for her colonies ; but the country is just as far off as ever from possessing real colonies, — territory, that is, to receive the surplus population of the empire and preserve it as an integral part of the German people. In colonial expansion in this sense the year was marked by no real progress ; even Kiao-Chau turns out a distinct disappointment in point of healthfulness. Germany started upon her colonial policy too late ; and Herr Richter was undoubtedly right when he recently exclaimed in the Reichstag : “ Cake ! The cake was divided long ago! ”

The increase of the army by some seventeen thousand men, and the announcement of the plan to double the fleet, emphasized Germany’s purpose to be strong against attack from without. The latter step is unquestionably aimed at England, whose statesmen are now thoroughly distrusted in Germany. It is a significant fact that an utterance of the Emperor at the launching of a vessel, “ Our future lies upon the water,” was at once made current coin in the language of the people. The incident is typical of the keen interest the Germans take in strengthening their maritime power. Last year the Fleet Society carried on an energetic propaganda, increased immensely in membership, and seems to have converted the vast majority of the people to its views.

In the domestic legislation of Germany, the measures that attracted most attention were the Imperial bill for protecting laborers from the terrorism and violence of strikers, and the Prussian bill for the construction of the Midland Canal. The former was a comparatively mild measure, its chief feature having been that it made picketing a punishable offense. Nevertheless, it called forth the most earnest opposition from all the more liberal classes of the people, and it was voted down with crushing emphasis. This result, as was made evident in the course of the debates, amounted to a vote of lack of confidence in the courts as to labor matters. The Prussian and Saxon courts particularly have distinguished themselves for their severity in sentencing laborers for trifling offenses. The courts, while above reproach as to their purity, have evidently lost touch with the national consciousness in regard to the labor question ; and hence the people were not willing to intrust them with larger powers of repression as against the labor movement.

The cheapness of freight rates in the United States — about one third of German prices — makes it difficult for the American reader to comprehend why the Canal Bill played such a commanding role, last year, in Prussian politics. The defeat of the bill deserves special prominence in this review, since it is to be understood as an episode — a very significant one, it is true — in one of the most important economic, social, and political movements of the time in Germany. The need for cheap transportation from the great coal and iron district of Westphalia to the populous industrial centres of the Rhine and Elbe valleys has long been felt ; and it was proposed to meet this want by building a canal to connect the two streams. Such a canal, however, would have an immense effect in hastening the development of Germany into a great manufacturing and commercial nation, a process which has already gone forward with astonishing rapidity during the past thirty years. Now, the proud, landowning aristocrats of Prussia have been watching that development with growing concern, seeing all too plainly that it must ultimately shift the balance of political power from their own class to the bourgeoisie. Already it has become evident that, the Junker are able to play the chief rôle in Prussia only through the maintenance of a monstrous rotten - borough system, dating back to forty years ago. As a result of that system, Berlin, for example, has but little more than one third of its rightful representation in the Diet. The canal, then, meant an increase of power for the liberal, progressive classes of Prussia ; and it was from this standpoint, chiefly, that the aristocratic, privileged classes voted it down.

The positive legislation of the year registered further advances in state-socialistic and centralizing ideas. The law for workingmen’s insurance was revised in the direction of larger pensions, extending compulsory insurance to some classes hitherto excluded, and introducing voluntary insurance for others. A revision of the trade laws (Gewerbeordnung) was carried, which secures an improvement of conditions for employees in stores and other reforms. Private postal companies were voted out of existence, and the monopoly principle was adopted for the post office. A system of open accounts with the post office, which will make that institution the banker of the small tradesman and popularize the check in Germany, was decided upon by the Postmaster General.

The tendency to centralize power in the hands of the Imperial government is seen in the adoption of the first Imperial law for the regulation of mortgage banks, and in the renewal of the bank law in a form that gives the Imperial Bank the power to dictate the discount rates of the private banks of issue. The latter law was also made more state-socialistic, since the earnings of the bank are to be divided much more to the advantage of the Imperial treasury than hitherto.

Socialism, once the terror of Germany, is developing more and more into a party of radical reform along existing lines, and the year 1899 witnessed further steps in that transformation. True, the old theoretic shibboleths were heard as usual at the annual party convention of the Social Democrats ; but the elder orthodox leaders were careful to draw the resolutions so mildly that they could be supported by the practical, opportunistic wing of the party. In the Reichstag, too, the Socialists demonstrated anew their readiness to coöperate with other parties, and even with the government, in carrying through practicable reforms. They helped the government to revise the workingmen’s insurance law, the trade laws, and the bank law ; and they helped to abolish private postal companies. Intelligent Liberals no longer regard the Socialist movement as a serious danger. On the contrary, the moderate Radicals adopted, last year, the policy of working with the Socialists, within certain limits, in carrying elections.

The year was made a memorable one in the history of the Social Democracy through the definitive abandonment, on the part of the government, of the policy of treating it differently from other political parties. An old law which prohibits political societies from combining together, and which had fallen wholly into disuse, was several years ago revived against the Socialists. All other political parties have for years maintained suborganizations which affiliate freely ; and such affiliation had been accepted as a matter of course, till the prohibition was revived and applied against the Socialists. When the new Civil Code was adopted, Chancellor Hohenlohe gave a pledge to the Reichstag that this prohibition should be repealed before the Code went into effect on January 1, 1900 ; and the repeal was carried in December, after the Chancellor had wrested from the unwilling Kaiser, as is credibly stated, his acquiescence in this course.

The fact that the new Civil Code went into effect at the beginning of this year renders 1899 notable, in a negative way, as having been the last year under the heterogeneous systems of civil law hitherto prevailing in different parts of the empire. The development of Germany into a completely homogeneous people, with uniform standards of action and uniform ideas of justice, has been retarded by the confusion in the administration of justice, as well as by the maintenance of certain principles of right which the consciousness of the age had outgrown. Now uniformity has taken the place of confusion, more modern ideas of justice have been introduced, and thus a long step has been taken toward making Germany ethically one people.

At the end of the year an incident was closed which deserves mention here, since it throws a curious light upon a certain spirit prevailing in Germany today. In 1898 the Berlin town council decided to build an iron fence around the graves of the persons who fell in the revolution of 1848, and to place upon the iron portal the following inscription : “ Resting Place of those who fell at Berlin in the March Days of 1848.” Permission was requested from the police to carry out this plan. After deliberating upon the matter for nine months the chief of police refused to issue the permit, upon the ground that the fence and the inscription would mean the glorification of revolution. The city government then appealed the case to the supreme administrative court, which, after a further period of nine months, dismissed the appeal, for the reason already assigned by the police. About the time the controversy began a new burgomaster for Berlin was elected. This official had to wait nearly eighteen months for the royal confirmation necessary before entering upon his duties ; after the court’s decision he was at once confirmed.

The incident affords a good illustration of the difference between Germany and our own country, in point of the confidence of government in the basis upon which it rests. In the South, monuments began to be erected to the Confederate dead within a few years after the close of the civil war. At that time some extremists saw disloyalty in those exhibitions of veneration for the dead; but nobody dreams now of disloyalty when a monument is erected. Not so Germany. Fifty years after the revolution of 1848, the authorities are unwilling to see a perfectly colorless inscription placed over the graves of a handful of revolutionists. That would endanger the public safety ! We have here an example of a certain logical pettiness that often crops out in German political affairs. The querelle d’Allemand of the French still exists in Germany.

No survey of German politics would be complete that ignored the political rôle played by the Emperor, since he is the foremost politician of Germany, and is more upon the stage than any other. The successes of the Emperor as a politician, however, were not very great during the past year. In the case of the Anti-Strike Bill and the Canal Bill he suffered two humiliating defeats, having thrown his influence openly and vigorously in favor of both measures. The bearing of the Emperor upon the defeat of the Canal Bill affords a luminous view of his character as a monarch. In public and in private he had evinced his deep interest in the success of the measure, and had even caused to be conveyed to such members of the Diet as held political offices the threat that they should be placed upon the retired list if they voted against the canal; through the Chancellor he clearly foreshadowed the dissolution of the Diet if the measure should be rejected. It was rejected, and the threatened dissolution did not follow. Why ?

The Emperor is a mixed character; contrary elements show themselves in him. Along with his undoubtedly genuine interest in the economic progress of Germany, he is filled with the ambition to resuscitate an idea of monarchy which Germany has long discarded. He openly proclaims himself a monarch by the grace of God alone, responsible to God alone, and knowing no mundane responsibility. The Conservatives — more exactly the landed aristocracy—are the only element of the people in which such ideas find any favor at all; the Liberal and other bourgeois parties incline more to English ideas of monarchy. Now, to have dissolved the Diet and appealed to the country to help him crush the reactionary enemies of the canal would have meant a sharp break with all the traditions of the Hohenzollern line. It would have amounted to a defeat of the aristocracy, and the ushering in of a more liberal régime in Prussia ; but it would also have been equivalent to an abandonment of the more absolutistic pretensions of the monarch. The aristocratic enemies of the canal calculated that the Emperor was not the man to inaugurate such a revolution, and the result shows that they gauged him correctly. The Emperor contented himself as best he could with disciplining the political officials who voted against the canal, — and that was all. In view of this incident, together with the emphatic rejection of the Anti-Strike Bill by the Reichstag, it must be admitted that the prestige of the Emperor as the political leader of Germany was not increased in 1899. The progressive people of the country have seen that his interest in the economic development of Germany, however sincere it may be, takes second place to a higher interest.

In the sphere of higher education, the most important event of the year was the decision of the Emperor to open the doctor’s degree to the students of the higher technical schools. Further indications of the growing appreciation of the higher technical education are seen in the decision to establish a polytechnic institute at Dantzic, and another at Jena. The Prussian universities were troubled to an unusual extent by the interference of the government in the matter of disciplining professors. The theory that the professor is also a government official was asserted as never before in the present generation, in the direction of curbing freedom of speech in commenting upon acts of the government. Professor Hans Delbrück, the well-known historian and the editor of the Preussische Jahrbüher, was reprimanded and sentenced to pay a fine of five hundred marks for too sharply criticising the government for expelling Danish housemaids and stallboys from North Schleswig. Dr. Arons, a PrivatDocent of the Berlin University, a lecturer on chemistry and physics, was suspended by the Minister of Public Instruction from his functions as a lecturer, upon the ground that he was a Social Democrat; and Dr. Preuss, another Privat-Docent, was reprimanded by the faculty — at the instance of the Empress, it is claimed — for having parodied, for a political purpose, a verse of the book of Job. These incidents have left a disagreeable impression among the professors, some of whom have expressed the fear that the traditional freedom of the German professor would be undermined by this apparently new policy of the government. The university extension movement made decided progress, having been introduced by several universities, and further developed by others.

Considerable progress in the woman’s movement is to be recorded. In January, Count Posadowsky announced in the Reichstag that the federated governments had decided to admit women to the study of medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy. The University of Giessen voted by a large majority to admit women to the philosophical and law faculties, and at Strasburg women were allowed as hearers. At Berlin the doctor’s degree was conferred for the first time upon a woman. The number of women now hearing lectures at the universities is much greater than ever before, the total at Berlin alone reaching nearly four hundred, whereas the number at all the Prussian universities a year ago was but slightly more than this.

The Society for the Reform of Education for Women continued to make propaganda for the establishment of Gymnasien for girls. It had already founded such institutions at Leipsic and Berlin, and last year another was opened at Hanover. Efforts are now making to establish such girls’ schools at Bremen, Breslau, Cologne, Munich, and Stuttgart. The movement has already gained such proportions that the University of Gottingen held in December the first examinations of women for positions as higher teachers (Oberlehrerinnen) in these schools. Several of the South German states appointed, for the first time, woman factory inspectors.

The economic life of Germany in 1899 was one of unparalleled activity. In the production of coal and iron all previous records were broken, and the electrical industry, in particular, strode forward at an astounding pace. In shipbuilding, too, the year’s results were record-breaking. The establishment of a society of German naval architects, after the model of the English institution, will have a great influence in promoting the scientific side of shipbuilding. In the sphere of transportation by land and water a similar story of progress can be told. In the construction of suburban and other secondary railways there was rapid development. The opening of the Dortmund-Ems Canal, which gives cheap communication between the Westphalian coal and iron district and the North Sea, was an event of immense significance for the economic life of the country. The great ocean steamship companies added largely to their strength in capital and in ships. The coasting trade of southeastern Asia fell chiefly into German hands, and the first German line of steamers was placed upon the Yangtse-Kiang.

Owing to the prosperity of German manufactures, the condition of the laboring classes was the best that Germany has ever seen. The competition to get operatives for mill and mine resulted in a continuous rise of wages, and the working people are now earning more than ever before. The demand for laborers in the manufacturing and mining centres attracted great numbers from the farming districts, particularly from the northeastern parts of the empire. Some thousands of coal miners were brought from Styria into Westphalia, and the temporary immigration of farm labor from Russian Poland and Galicia into eastern Germany assumed large proportions. Nevertheless, the complaints among farmers there as to scarcity of help have grown chronic. In the presence of such conditions, it is not to be wondered at that emigration has shrunk to very small proportions; and of the surplus population that originally gave occasion for the inauguration of Germany’s colonial policy one now hears nothing.

In the material life of Germany, then, development is going forward rapidly. The very outward expression of all this economic energy — everywhere old buildings being leveled to give place to better ones, the railways overrun with traffic, factories working overtime and unable to fill their orders, commerce reaching out into all parts of the world — is having an immense effect upon the character of the people. The consciousness of power is growing, and the self-reliance that shrinks at no task is ripening apace. Meanwhile, the conditions are shaping themselves for a larger influence of the liberal commercial classes upon the political and social life of the country, and the new Germany of the twentieth century is gradually emerging into view.

The year 1899 was important for the literature of Germany, but less so by reason of productions of note than for the new tendency revealed. In the realism which arose about ten years ago German literature experienced a rejuvenation. Hauptmann and Sudermann were the leading spirits of the younger generation, and they have remained so. The young writers threw themselves with pugnacious energy into the new movement. The antiquated traditions of the past, it was said, were to be broken with for good and all. It was demanded that one should describe what one saw, without any attempt at artificial literary adornment. At the same time, the problems of the present day, particularly the social problem, took hold of these younger writers with peculiar power. Modern scientific thought determined their views of life and its phenomena. Thus their radical realism took on something doctrinaire, their moralizing was rationalistic.

Realism, indeed, has remained dominant upon the stage; and the stage continues to determine the tone of literature. There is yet no lack of authors who have continued to worship at the shrine of the realism of ten years ago. Georg Hirschfeld, the talented young author of Die Mütter, depicted recently, in his comedy Pauline, the heart experiences of a servant girl; and Max Halbe, in his drama Die Heimatlosen, gave a study of the ruin of a country girl in a milieu of metropolitan bohemian life, — both works true to the literary views with which the younger generation first entered the arena. The rationalistic, moralizing tone, indeed, has disappeared from their dramas, and in its place a view of life is evinced which can be characterized only as the negation of any view of life at all. A certain haziness is peculiar to their plays ; and in this respect their latest works are unfortunately typical. Max Dreyer, whose Probekandidat has been the great theatrical success of the present season, has shown marked skill in giving a realistic setting to his problem drama. The plot represents a young teacher who has adopted Darwinian views, and who, when asked to recant, remains true to his convictions, and is dismissed. The liberal tendency of the play insured for it a continued success.

Hauptmann, however, and Sudermann himself, as well as others, have entered upon new paths. A striving after greater depth of sentiment, after self-communion, manifests itself in their most recent productions. In Hauptmann’s Fuhrmann Henschel the figures are drawn with perfect realism, but there is a mystical element surrounding them. Fate created them, fate leads them, and fate works itself out in them. And surrounded by this mystical something the figures appear large, like men seen through a foggy atmosphere. On the other hand, it was just the peculiarity of Hauptmann’s early works that the figures seemed reduced by that moralizing, rationalistic tone to a diminutiveness that was almost purposely malicious. Hauptmann’s view of life has changed; it has gained in depth.

This striving after spiritual depth manifests itself, too, in Sudermann’s drama Die Drei Reihenfedern. Sudermann takes up for study the problem of a longing which lives on, even when fulfillment is reached, because it does not recognize in fulfillment the object wished for. The Norse giant, Prince Witte, sets out upon his wanderings to find the woman that his longing fancy ever mirrors to him. He finds her, but fails to recognize her as the one sought, and wanders on till death reunites them. Dying, he recognizes, too late, in his deserted wife the idol of his longings. Sudermann’s latest work has not been a dramatic success; it lacks the clearness essential for the stage. Nevertheless, Die Drei Reihenfedern shows progress in psychological insight and lyrical feeling.

In fact, the younger generation of German writers are seeking and finding a deeper lyric note. The lyrical element is strong in Arthur Schnitzler’s one-act pieces, Die Gefährtin, Der Grüne Kakadu, and Paracelsus. It is also strong in his new novel, Die Frau des Weisen, in which problems of marital infidelity are treated, but in a quite spiritual way, — not straining after effect, but seeking for subjective situations. And this lyrical sensibility has led back — not quite recently, indeed — to the Märchen drama. The past year gave us a drama of this class, Schlaraffenland (Loafers’ Land), by Ludwig Fulda, in which the writer endeavors to show how the longing for work awakens in a land of sluggards. Much more original are the lyrical dramas of the young Vienna writer, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Die Hochzeit der Sobeïde and Der Abenteurer, but they are also far-fetched and artificial.

As a lyrical writer, Hugo von Hofmannsthal is not far removed from his friend Stefan George. In George’s lately published volumes of poems, Hymen, Pilgerfahrt, Algabal, Bücher der Hirten, and Jahr der Seele, a highly finished lyrical style is exhibited. We have here a dreaming in pictures that are far removed from reality, a seeking after impressions unknown to daily life, a reveling in pretty and artificial visions. These lyrics did not spring from German soil. Maeterlinck, Verlaine, perhaps also Rossetti, are the sources of their inspiration. In original lyrical poetry Germany’s literature is at present not rich. Nevertheless, in Anna Ritter (Gedichte) a lyrical writer not wanting in originality has recently arisen.

At the time when the new generation of writers stepped with so much selfconfidence into the lists, it was with the avowed intention of pushing those of the elder generation utterly to the wall. The contest swayed back and forth, — “ Truth ” the watchword of the one side, “ Beauty ” that of the other. Since that time the points at issue have not been magnified; they have largely dropped out of sight. From Fulda’s dramatical Märchen to Paul Heyse’s finely thought out, beautifully written Märchen book is not a long step. Adolf Wilbrandt, in his tale Erika, treats the same problem as Max Dreyer, a writer of the younger generation, in a less recent drama, Drei, — namely, the awakening of unjustifiable jealousy in a young husband through his own consciousness of guilt; and the method of treatment in the two works is not altogether different. Wilbrandt’s tales, of course, show a too evident effort to construct situations to fit his characters; and this fault is seen in his latest novels, Vater Robinson and Der Sanger. In order to exhibit his characters, wise and elevated natures, in their best light, he creates a world especially for them. Like Diogenes he is looking for a man. And in this respect he finds a counterpart in Wilhelm Raabe, the best of the German humorists, — a genuine, clearsighted painter of character. But Raabe has grown old, and his new historical novel, Hastenbeck, shows traces of failing power.

In fiction the struggle for a deeper spirituality also makes itself felt. This has always been a characteristic of Rosegger, the Styrian writer; and his latest novel, Erdsegen, manifests it anew. Among writers of the younger generation Lou Andreas-Salomé is distinguished by the same tendency, as is shown by her new cycle of stories, Menschenkinder ; and it is also found in Adalbert Meinhardt, Anselm Heine, and Kurt Martens. Marie von EbnerEschenbach, the most powerful and spiritual of the woman writers of Germany, unfortunately, published nothing during the year. The latest novels of Spielhagen, Rudolph Stratz, Ompteda, Wolzogen, and Polenz are worth reading, although they are not strongly characteristic of the general literary development.

The woman movement has brought with it a literature of its own. Helene Böklau’s new novel, Halbtier, grapples with the question from a revolutionary standpoint, seeking to cut the knot at a single bold stroke. All the tragedy of woman’s fate finds expression in Jese Frapan’s slight book, Wir Frauen haben kein Vaterland; but in this tragedy there is a confidence of future victory.

The celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Goethe demonstrated anew how deeply and permanently he has laid hold upon the German mind. Among all the German writers of the past he is the only one from whose literary greatness time detracts nothing. In the practical Germany of to-day Schiller is losing ground; Goethe is greater than ever.

William C. Dreher.